Irrespective of the jaw-dropping effects and mind-altering sets, The Dark Knight, which opens today, will always be remembered as Heath Ledger’s final screen outing
He is back. In this season of superheroes — from the industrialist-scientist Iron Man to boozy, foul-mouthed Hancock — the most complex and angst-ridden of them all, Batman, flies again. In “The Dark Knight”, Christian Bale in his third collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, (“Batman Begins”, “The Prestige”) dons the bat suit and drives a mean Batmobile to rid Gotham city of its evil doers.
The movie also sees the return of the suave Michael Caine as Batman/Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), the CEO of Wayne Enterprises and Batman’s armourer and Gary Oldman as police lieutenant Jim Gordon. Katie Holmes, who played Batman’s love interest, Rachel Dawes, in the first movie has given way to Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Aaron Eckhart plays district attorney Harvey Dent, who is very much on the side of the law and admires Batman for being able to tackle crime in ways he cannot, till a horrid accident turns him into Two-Face.
Like Batman Begins, “The Dark Knight” is shot in Chicago with the windy city doubling for Gotham. For the first time on screen Batman goes overseas to Hong Kong to dismantle a crime syndicate there.
The gadget levels are suitably high with the Batmobile vrooming around and the introduction of the Bat Pod a mean machine on two wheels.
Also the bat suit has been redesigned after Batman tells Lucius Fox: “I need a new suit. I’m not talking fashion Mr. Fox so much as function.” To which Fox replies: “You want to be able to turn your head.” And incidentally Batman as his alter ego of multi-billionaire, Bruce Wayne, wears Armani.
With the Wayne mansion being burned down in the end of “Batman Begins”, Batman now hangs out at a modern penthouse overlooking the city.
A superhero story is as strong as its villain and that brings us to the most important part of “The Dark Knight”, the malevolent Joker, played with prescient poignancy by Heath Ledger who died early this year of an accidental overdose. The publicity pictures show a chalk-white faced Ledger, with dark-rimmed eyes and a crooked bright-red grin painted on. Talking about casting Ledger for the role, Nolan says: “I needed a phenomenal actor, but he also had to be someone unafraid of taking on such an iconic role. Heath created something entirely original. We talked about how we saw this character and we both had exactly the same concept—that The Joker was about the threat of anarchy and revels in creating chaos and fear on a grand scale.
Heath seemed to instinctively understand how to make this character different from anything that had ever been done before.”
While there were reports that Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker with malicious glee in Tim Burton’s “Batman” (‘89), was upset at not being offered the role, Ledger’s crackling performance as the demented anarchic clown, would definitely please Jack. There is already talk of a posthumous Oscar nomination for Ledger’s dynamite performance.
While all the extras in the movie are very welcome, all eyes will be on the candle in the wind going by the name of Heath Ledger.